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Sarah Mukherjee's week

Friday 21 August 2009, 16:33

Sarah Mukherjee Sarah Mukherjee

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Conker

There are many advantages to working in August.

True, while many of our colleagues (and listeners) are battling with dilemmas like "white or red?", "pool or beach?" and "if I eat anything else for breakfast, will I still be able to get into my swimsuit?", I am trawling through websites, specialist journals and my contacts (those who are left at work, anyway) to see what stories they may have that we can get on air.

But while London can be, like any big conurbation, rather oppressive in hazy, sticky summer days, you can at least get a seat on the train, the queue for coffee is mercifully short, and anything story you turn your hand to will have an excellent chance of getting on.

I've been a broadcast journalist for twenty years now, and every year it's the same. There is often, sadly, one overwhelming story that happens in August - the death of the Princess of Wales, or the murder or the two little girls from Soham (both of which I covered).

But lower down the running order, there's an interesting shift in editorial standards that takes place at about the end of July. A gradual descent downwards, hurtling towards the bottom of the barrel at about this point in the summer. Part of the job of a specialist correspondent is to advise the outlets we serve about the merits of a story. But no-one wants to hear "we've done it before" at this time of year - there are still hours of airtime to fill, and not a lot with which to fill it.

But if you manage to dodge the pleading emails from output editors, August can be a fantastic time to prepare for the big stories later in the year. So much of modern day journalism can feel like a bit of a hamster wheel. Within a day you must take calls and read emails from contacts, mobilise resources, book crews, check equipment (when I do radio slots for the Today programme it's me and a satellite dish, no back up, so it's vital to make sure it's working before you leave), talk to editors, and research and turn around a story at lightning speed. So the chance to lift your gaze towards the horizon at quiet times is enormously helpful.

Yesterday, I and producer Nora Dennehy took a trip up to Sandy in Bedfordshire, to the headquarters of the RSPB, to talk to their experts about illegal bird hunting, here and in the EU, and about the effectiveness - or lack of it - of the European legislation designed to stop the practise.

Much of our planning time is now being devoted to a big UN meeting in December in Copenhagen, at which - it's hoped - there will be a global deal to reduce in the future the carbon dioxide emissions that the vast majority of scientists believe are causing climate change.

My big concern is how we are going to cover a story that involves lots of people talking impenetrably to each other in a large conference hall, and cover it in a way that makes it relevant to our listeners, explains what is going on and considers the difference it could make to us all. Already there are some very highly placed people I've been talking to who think such a deal is too much to ask in the time available - so we already have to ask the question: what happens then?

One of our ideas it to take a van that runs on chip fat around the UK to visit some low-carbon projects and schemes that are actually up and running. It's obviously a big commitment, financially and logistically, for the BBC, so we've been talking this week within the department about how viable it would be.

But before I think about covering talks designed to save the planet, I need to check out a story about a UK-wide early conker harvest, and conker-killing beetles that seem to be travelling by car. August may always be quiet, but the variety of stories that cross your desk as environment correspondent never ceases to surprise me!

Sarah Mukherjee is BBC environment correspondent.

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    Comment number 1.

    Here are some thoughts.

    - Why oh why are we listening to more of this metropolitan "Tis too hot and my chums are in Tuscany" style stereotyping. Not everyone goes on holiday in August - it is just skewed to appear that way because of the media's understandable obsession with the Houses Of Parliament and the fact that most media people travel on the Tube, when very few of the real population of the country do..... - I'm still annoyed at Sarah Montague for personally precipitating the rainfall that spoiled the last dry weather.. Still Humphrys will be happy, so that's alright.

    Still, a good article, but it does prompt some thoughts about your general environmental coverage.

    Why are the RSPB getting disproportionately greater coverage of the impact of wind farms than the potential benefits of having a Severn Barrage, even though the localised impact on wildlife will be high ?

    Why does the BBC think we are so thick that we cannot be trusted with the naysayers on global warming as well as those in favour ? Children were shielded from some of the nasty PR from tobacco companies about the lack of proof a link between tobacco and cancer. But adults were allowed to judge for themselves on the balance of the evidence.

    There doesn't seem to be enough coverage of the urgent need to start building more nuclear power stations. Nor, on the flip side, consequences for local populations of the steam-rollering of public consultations and planning process for such large projects. Which can be a blessing if it means reducing carbon emissions, but negated by the un-opposed building of new runways and airports.

    Why are you not educating the public about just how much of the UK will disappear under the water or be zapped by coastal erosion when climate change kicks in ?? Indeed maybe you should point out to the rarefied minority who go to Tuscany [one would think that they form the majority of the British populace from reading the broadsheets..] that they should jolly well go and visit the Norfolk Broads or the Gower Peninsula, since they won't have the chance when they have retired...

    Maybe you should cover the politics of the National Parks and the conflict / cosy bed relationship [as differing people see it] with big business / corporate developers. The New Forest being a case in point.

    Indeed, as environment correspondent do you really need to live and work in London at all ?? The real environmental stories are never there - it is not as if the politicians who make the big decisions are based there.

    Such big decisions are made at EU / UN level anyway - although I would concede that much of the capitulation to big business on things like the 3rd Runway at Heathrow, and the lobbying in the House of Lords takes place there. But I guess that is the 'turf' of the political correspondents like Laura Kuenssberg.

    And James Lovelock doesn't live in London - and his is a voice that does not ever seem to get the profile it deserves on the BBC. And what about getting a different perspective from Julia Hailes. Controversial as she works with big business, but radical in that she understands that change of behaviour is best done by persuasion and nudging than legislation - which to my untrained eye seems singularly ineffective at changing hearts and minds.

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    Comment number 2.

    p.s. you could also try a feature with both the National Trust and the Forestry Commission, both of whom are trying to get with the programme on environmental awareness.

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    Comment number 3.

    Sarah:

    It seems that you and excellent time on Radio 4...I hope you enjoy it...


    =Dennis Junior=

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    Comment number 4.

    So the BBC is already planning its Copenhagen propaganda offensive. What a depressing prospect, although quite how the Today programme can cram any more hysterical climate change items into its running order is beyond me. A van that runs on chip fat? Oh, good one. Did you come up with that at a brainstorming retreat? Will it have peace signs and Green Party bumper stickers? Note to self - book ski holiday to coincide with Copenhagen boondoggle.

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    Comment number 5.

    duhbuh - calm yourself. A van that runs on chip fat is of absolutely no use in reducing the 'carbon footprint' of transport, so if you don't believe in 'climate change' you can at least console yourself that such an initiative, along with 'biofuels' which require chopping down of rainforest and are thus just as useless as 'fossil fuels' in sustainability, will be no better or worse at affecting the long-term impact on the climate.

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    Comment number 6.

    The preferred fuel for the BBC's chip fat van?

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    Comment number 7.

    Lets have the chip van hauled along by an old fashioned steam engine, and the chips can be fried over the hot coals, much better for the enviroment than petrol, and we can reopen one of our coal mines.

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    Comment number 8.

    From Sarah Mukherjee - a few words in reply:

    Firstly,lordbeddgelert: The remarks in the first sentence could just as well be made about a holiday in Britain as anywhere else. Indeed, we as a family asked ourselves similar questions when on holiday in Norfolk this year. And I'm aware many people are working in August. I was one of them, but a lot of people aren't,which is the point I was trying to make in a relatively light hearted way.

    And I'm not sure what in the blog gave you the impression that I lived in London. I don't, and haven't for the last ten years, in part because I agree that environment correspondents see more and understand more when they live outside major conurbations (I live in a village in East Anglia) - although it's not just in London where people travel into work by train. In normal weeks, I come into London perhaps once a week; the rest of the time my office is my laptop, as I'm out and about. In the last few years I've reported from the North West of Scotland via Peterhead,to Strangford Loch, the Gower, Cornwall and the South West, along the Coast to Kent, up to Norfolk and round again to Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. I was asked to blog on what I did last week,which I did.

    In terms of the stories you mention: I co-presented The World Tonight on the Severn Barrage from Weston Super-Mare, with pros and antis, earlier this year; I have interviewed climate change sceptics over the years; I have reported in some length on the energy gap and whether nuclear can fill it in time, and intend to do more; I did a nine-minute report on the Planning Bill for You and Yours a few months ago; I've reported on coastal erosion from Wales, Essex and Norfolk; I have reported on the implications of European laws on waste, conservation, pesticides and water quality; I have done quite a lot over the years with the National Trust (eg on renewable energy in stately homes) and (amittedly less) with the Forestry Commission; I have also reported on the tensions within National Parks between development and conservation, but if you have any examples you think should be covered I would be glad to hear of them.

    to Duhbuh: The meeting in Copenhagen is going to be a very large global event which the BBC will certainly not be alone on covering, even amongst the British media. As we would with any big event, we have to consider logistics and resources in advance. And the chip fat van, which we had a trial run with earlier in the year, generated a lot of interest from other viewers - not least because it uses a bit of kit which will turn chip fat into diesel in 8 hours, and that diesel costs about 15p a litre, excluding the initial outlay.


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    Comment number 9.

    People say that the BBC are biased for reporting on climate change. It's going to be one of the biggest stories of the next decade, its something the will effect everyone. It would be like not reporting on the war in Afghanistan just because some people disagree with it, it's still happening.

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    Comment number 10.

    Sarah, Thanks for taking the time to respond to a misanthropic curmudgeon like myself. What would be really useful is to try and pull together your reports, along with that of other colleagues, in a single blog or webpage.

    At the moment the BBC Blogs and 'Earth' pages are growing a bit like topsy so I guess part of the problem for someone like you is connecting with the audience when you report on a number of different programmes. For example, I wouldn't listen to You and Yours in a month of Sundays [which I guess is my loss...] but I do manage to pick up a lot of interviews on Newsnight's fantastic website, even if I don't get to see the programme every single evening.

    Failing that, maybe you could have your own personal website which would carry your own articles, rather like George Monbiot or Boris Johnson, but Radio 4 / BBC copyright rules may preclude you from mentioning that.

    As regards the National Parks, there is some tension between the New Forest 'National Parks Authority' and the ancient 'Verderers' Court', since the latter are worrying about being subsumed by the former - but that is as much a political story as one about the environment.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 11.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    Manufacturer and exporter of all kinds of springs. Be it compression spring, torsion spring to name few.

 

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